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Posted in: General

Pre-match warm ups - the science of stretching

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  • dancottrell1

    Can anyone help me understand the "right" thinking for pre-match warm up stretching.

    I know that the research seems contradictory. I'm also interested in terms of coaching young players.

    My anecdotal evidence is this:

    For young players, up to the age of around 15, a gentle game similar to actual game is actually just as good as dynamic stretching.

    Unless a player has a predisposed stiffness, we don't do any specific stretching. Those players who are particular stiff (and those tend to be the ones who spend too much time in the gym), have to start the "warm up" early and go through some more specific routines.

    At senior level, lots of teams go through routines (and I assuming the same for individual sports). Is this because they are probably training very hard and are probably "stiff" before competition?

    Happy to be persuaded either way...

  • IanMahoney







  • Vivien

    Although research is inclined to a bit contradicting is it more suitable to do some cardio work then gentle stretching.   In particular it is beneficial for football in that, when you think fo the actions the body has to make while playing football, it would be advisable to do stretching.   It is possible that by doing this, you may have less hamstring, achilles etc injuries.  It would be a good idea to put some popular music on for a quick warm up and stretching routine.  Lifts the spirits.

  • IanMahoney

    The first part of the warm-up is a gentle jog starting slowly a building intensity and lengthening stride for a least a mile,

    We are preparing the body for exercise by increasing the heat rate,

    Basic principle that is never disputed..

  • Vivien

    There has been a number research programmes undertaken and I always the remember the Study that showed there did not appear to be any difference do a between the control group and the group that exercised before running.   Nevertheless, in my sport, it is very advisable to do a "proper" warm up (cardio work) they flexibility workout, before undertaking any of the skills required.   Personally, I believe this to be a preventative measure to experiencing injury and cannot imagine undertaking the skills without a "proper" warm-up being undertaken first and then at the end of a session doing a Cool Down and gently stretching.

  • imac

    I've changed my approach over the time I've been a coach. I started off doing some martial arts. Key thing for me was the preparing for activity by raising heart rate and gradually building up to full range of movement, the body is then much more able to respond to whatever you throw at it.  It's also about getting mentally prepared for the activity, getting both focused in yourself (pre-session routine) and (by choice of activity in the warm up) 'waking up' to the activity.  Both are very necessary, especially with people that have a lot going on in their mind. Stretching is done elsewhere in the programme, an activity in itself. Now I'm coaching in kayaking, a relatively low impact sport at the level I'm involved in, people don't necessarily see the benefit of warm up and stretching, despite the positions we have to adopt for considerable lengths of time and the way there's enough strain to damage shoulders and limbs. Interestingly, the coach training for kayaking emphasises the need for a both physical and mental warm up and 'games' that challenge proprioreception and coordination as well as raising heart rate. 

    How this translates into coaching a sport such as football I'm not sure. Athletics is perhaps easier fit. 

    After rereading initial post thought needed to add in - dynamic stretching is scary. The action is too close to Plyometrics for my liking, and having felt hamstrings twang when doing itI cannot believe dynamic  stretching is a 'good' thing to get anyone to do as warm up

  • NathanAbbott

    Looked at the principles behind RAMP? Could you take those principles and apply specificity to your sport?

  • Vivien

    Dynamic stretching has to be done under control.   Problems start if people just through their limbs into it without keeping the control of the movement.  This means they can go outside of their range of movement creating small tears in the muscle fibres which, in turn, will hinder the flexibility of the muscle in future due to the scar tissue that will form.   It is necessary for people who are doing skills "on the move" but this has to be balanced with the appropriate amount of muscle strength.   Passive stretching is fine when not jumping, kicking or moving around or through full range of movement.   When it comes to Dance, Gymnastics, Aerobics, Street Dance or track event such as hurdling you need the strength and flexibility in order to have the correct technique to perform the skills correctly,  aesthetically and bio-mechanically.   

    Of course, the "warm-up" and body preparation movements are for all the reasons you mention as well and very much depends on the ages and abilities that are performing the activity that is to follow.

  • shootcoach

    I have always been told that cold and or relaxed muscles are easier to damage, and prevention is always better than a cure, well this causes me a major problem. Any form of standard warm up will increase the heart rate, and I want my athletes to lower it before they start shooting.  I spent some considerable time working with a physiotherapist who came up with some neck and upper body stretching (with bands), that work well when used with breathing exercises. Each and every sport requires something that may not relate to general coaching science, but with a little thought and help from the specialists we can achieve a programme fit for our particular athletes, we can't always go by the book.          

  • BarbAugustin

    I coach triathletes and runners. 

    The triathletes are masters aged athletes who are trying to squeeze in a session before work - the whole session has to be finished in less than an hour. When swimming I have them do a couple of minutes easy then have them focus on technique for ~ 5-10 minutes. This is raising their heart rate and not putting any undue demands on muscles. After that I'll do some short, fast work with active recovery and skills before heading into the main set. For riding, they warm up by riding easy for 15 minutes (but including 6x100m sprints). For running, they'll do a 15 minute jog then come back and do some strides/run throughs - where they start at a jogging pace and finish at 400m pace. In summary, these guys (who are liable to injury due to age) don't do any stretching as part of their warm up (unless instructed to by their physio), sometimes rush home without stretching in their cool down and (touch wood) are rarely injured. They are told to do separate stretching sessions at home, but I doubt that most of them do it.

    The runners I coach are generally juniors and I have more time with them. They will do a 15 minute jog, then come back and do mobility exercises (eg hip circles, leg swings) then strides/run throughs. These guys are less likely to be injured compared to the over 30s/40s/50s, and they have more time per session but they also have the issue of being a single-sport (triathletes don't use the same muscles all the time) and they also have the potential of one day going on to become elite athletes, so I want to instil good habits. In summary, for the juniors don't do any stretching as part of their warm up (unless instructed to by their physio), sometimes rush home without stretching in their cool down and (touch wood) are rarely injured. They are told to do separate stretching sessions at home, but I doubt that most of them do it.

    I have found static stretching prior to running to be no use - you need the tension in the muscle for elastic recoil (if the muscle is floppy you'll get no recoil - think of an elastic band). After running the muscles will be warm, so less likely to be injured by stretching. While the jury is out on whether you can actually change the length of a muscle by stretching, I am looking for mobility around the joints.

    Dynamic warm ups (such as arm circles prior to swimming) seem to work by increasing mobility around the joint and also by mentally preparing the athlete (especially if it becomes part of their routine - it helps them get their head in the right space).

  • Clenchiecoach

    Whilst there's clearly many opinions out there on the merits of all types of stretching, I find when coaching kids in team sports,  the Warm-Up gives a great opportunity for players to connect socially in a series of enjoyable mini-games and challenges designed to look like the game itself. With the often unnecessary pressure being put on the matches, the warm-up is sometimes the most enjoyable and useful part of the morning.

    I wrote the below some time ago...

    The Warm-Up – Preparing for Preparation


    The warm up. What do we understand about it and where does it fit in to the Great British Football Culture? Do we plan these vital minutes in the same details as our sessions? Have we thought as deeply about getting our players ‘game ready’ as we have about our formations and our inspirational speech before kick-off? Have we done the adequate preparation for a series of pre-game activities, designed to help execute our current coaching themes and topics? Surely our preparation must look like the game we’re about to play and how often do we forget that this is a great chance for players to work together away from the pressures put on them during some matches?

    It’s a common scene. Kids, or adults for that matter, turn up for their game, on time or otherwise. There’ll be several balls around and one reluctant player will end up standing in the goal whilst the rest of the squad belt as many balls towards the goal as they can find, narrowly missing the coach still trying to hang the net. At some point, the stand-in ‘keeper will get smart and go and collect all the missed shots so someone else takes a turn being battered. In a few minutes, they might all stand in a circle, swing their arms around a bit and touch their toes a couple of times before queueing up for a shot each (compulsory one-two before point blank blast) and then lining up, ready to play.

    Variations on the above exist all over and like all of us, the guys running the teams are making their best efforts but why do we neglect this important and often fun part of match day? Maybe it’s because I see myself more as a Coach than a Manager but I actually enjoy this time watching the players prepare more than the match itself. I might not provide the perfect warm-up and would genuinely love to hear more ideas but here’s my most recent plans for now…

    Stretching? Many debates on this but I’ve basically two philosophies. For the Foundation stage players I work with, it’s wholly unnecessary and I never bother. For our U14’s, it’s now becoming a necessity as their bodies change but I’m happy to hand over the responsibility to them to stretch statically and dynamically whilst I watch from a distance, preparing the Match Ball or writing the starters on the whiteboard, unable to hear the chat about Xbox or teachers or anything else they want to catch up on as they mix in the all-important Social Corner.

    The rest of it, if you use the right language, works for any age group.

    Quickly into some ball-work. Preferably one each in a tight space. Invariably, there’s a flat ball in the bag so have players swap footballs for a period of time. The one with the flat ball gets a warm-up based forfeit, such as dynamic stretching as they lap the small playing area. Switch the rules so the one with the flat ball wins, ensuring all the others do the same work at least once. This game and others like it sees the players begin to ‘switch-on’. Watch as they start all working together, enjoying the game whilst the competitive element makes sure it’s done at game pace. Their brains are now warming up with their legs.

    Grab a drink. Make some pointers. Discuss the weather, the pitch, the direction of the sun. Maybe tell them the starters and any formation plans. Highlight the challenges and opportunities of each position and invite them to think about how they’ll approach them whilst they go through the already prepared shooting practice.

    Maybe you’ll have a specific coach to warm the Goalkeeper up separately but I prefer to keep them all together rather than isolate a player. A well designed shooting practice helps to get the ‘keepers brain up to match speed and I’ll usually ask them which of the regular sequences they’d like to work with on that day. I tend to use three different types of rotation practices (not my own work so thanks to the coaches I borrowed them from). They are designed to keep all players moving at all times rather than in lines for too long. Kids love nothing more than scoring so if you mix up with shots from all areas, including crosses, 1-2 passes and 1v1s, then you’ve got a warm-up practice that is starting to introduce aspects of the fluid game as we build-up towards kick-off. It’s also a chance to pull any of the players out to refine any match day challenges or listen to their thoughts on their role.

    Another drink, quick chat and with about 10 minutes to go, a likely toilet break for some before they enter the already prepared game related practice. This must look like the game of football itself. It has to involve possession, direction and transition as we fine-tune bodies and brains to be ready from the very first minute of the match about to start. Sometimes it’s a restricted practice, keeping possession and switching ends. Sometimes it’s as simple as a match played across the width. As long as it’s different each week to keep them motivated and interested, then you’ve got a great lead in to the game itself.

    Finally, and vitally, allow some time before kick-off. I’ll keep my own motivational rant to myself and send the starters out early, asking them to discuss their role with the players near them. How are you going to support each other? What are you planning to do and what help do you need from your mate? Who will you cover and when? It’s their game and their learning so make sure they take that responsibility on as much as possible. Feel proud as you see small groups all over the pitch who were larking around 45minutes earlier now talking tactics and plans and that they’ve been allowed to enjoy the time before the match, connecting socially and working together.

    Then….take your position, shut up and watch the game, knowing that the team is well prepared and ready to do their absolute best, whoever they might be playing.

    Hope a little useful and always interested in the ideas of others.

    Thanks for reading



  • Dan

    I agree with most of the comments here, the key bit being all have slightly differing approaches.  I have coached a range of sports and levels over the last 30 years and I have generally stuck to the rules that with kids below mid teen I tend to get them moving by a graduated game, so touch rugby at 50% by limiting the number of steps and player can take, it also ensures they have to pass the ball.  As the warm up goes I I then turn up the intensity to the level required for that session, so I control the warm up based on the feedback I get from the players.  Small games are the best for this, although sometimes getting everyone playing together is just as good.  Kids tend not to warm up prior to playing in a playground, they just start running.  Older players whether it is rugby, athletics, rowing or whatever may need a form of warm up that is right for them, dynamic stretching which is controlled as part of a warm up prepares people for what is about to happen.  So there is no one right answer in terms of approach, the science is well proved in this area; so I tend to rely on that as my baseline and then adapt it to suit the age group or players I am coaching.


  • AndyEdwards

    Hi Dan,

    Here are some links to articles I have found helpful.

    Stretching is overrated http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/stretching-before-exercise-is-overrated/376089/

    The truth about stretching http://vitals.lifehacker.com/the-truth-about-stretching-when-it-helps-and-when-it-d-1718270464

    Quite a stretch https://www.painscience.com/articles/stretching.php

    I hope you find them interesting and they help you come to an evidence based conclusion.



    Interesting post Dan, and lots of interesting responses. Firstly, I think this type of discussion is what make forums such a this a great CPD tool, the sharing of practice and opinions can only help us adapt and change our behavior in the anticipation of improving our own practice.

    Back to your quest Dan. Warm ups are possibly a missed opportunity in many environments, why do I suggest this? Because they are seen as something we do before the session and not actually planned as part of the session.

    In my opinion and own practice I see the objective of the warm up as follows:

    • To physically prepare the athlete specific to the next phase of the session.
    • To assist in injury prevention.
    • And last, but not least to mentally prepare the athlete.

    The warm up is often the last thing I plan and not the first, once I know what the objectives of the session are then and only then do I feel I can plan the warm to physical and mentally prepare the athletes for what is to come.

    Using a RAMP protocol that is based on the principle of Raise Activate and Mobilise followed by Potentiate I design the warm specific to the session and individuals.

    To give you an example I have attached a warm for a mutli-direction sprint session with Rugby players. Stretching, there is no evidence that static stretching enhances performances, to the point that Knudson et. al. (2000) suggests static stretching can compromise performance of the muscle while Fletcher et. al. (2004) & Little et.el. (2006) has indicated that dynamic stretching improves running/sprinting performance.  

    Let’s go through the methodology of the warm up attached. Raise commences with jogging and then we gradually start to activate and mobilise the joints and muscle that will be the focus of our overall session.  Skipping through to sprints are all being monitored for movement under control at a gradually developing intensity. We progress to the potentiation phase with some linear sprints, followed by a speed tech active recovery before going into the main session. I have outlined one of the Rugby Speed/Change of Direction session below. The first part of the session is still part of the warm of up with gradual introduction of a 45 degree cut before we go to 90 degree cut. The sprints are position specific and adapted accordingly, i.e. backs in particular wingers will switch from cut to longer arching runs.  

    The warm-up is aligned to the objectives of session and meets the needs of the individual and the team. If the session included contacts then the potentiation stage would include pads, bag work before going to full contact. In context of football potentiation may include small sided games. The length of my warm lasts about 20-25% of the total session.

    The issue with introducing the ball too early for me is, are all players warming up at a consistent rate and does it provide opportunities to mentally prepare athletes for the session. I tend to minimise coaching and only talk to control intensity, correct technique, and develop a focus. Athletes are instructed to avoid pain and make us aware of any exercise they are unable to complete pain free.



    Still in Potentiation phase.

    Place markers at 5/10m/20m/40m, on the finish line (metre mark) ensure a separation left and right of 5m per marker.

    2 x 80% pace x 10m 45-degree cut

    2 x 80% pace x 20m 45-degree cut  

    Main Drill

    Using same set up - markers at 5/10m/20m/40m, on the finish line (metre mark) ensure a separation left and right of 5m per marker.

    Start each effort with an easy rolling start of 5m and accelerate to max speed over distance. At the marker cut hard to either the left run one then hard right run two alternating based on number of sprints. Ensure cut is followed by second hard accelerate to 5m. When you change, direction concentrate on maintaining stride rate (don’t slow down).

    Front row players 6 x 5m, 6 x 10, 2 x 20 efforts (200m sprinting incl. 5m cut)

    Second/back row 4 x 5, 6 x 10, 4 x 20 efforts (230m sprinting incl. 5m cut)

    Backs 4 x 10, 4 x 20, 2 x 40 (40m arching sprints, no cut) (250m sprinting incl. 5m cut)

    Wings 2 x 20 efforts, 2 x 40, 2 x 60m (40/60m arching sprints, no cut) (270m sprinting incl. 5m cut)


    Recovery between each effort.

    All <20m sprints run through to a gradual stop and walk out to half way line, slow recovery walk back.

    All >40m sprints run through to gradual stop and walk out full pitch, slow recovery walk back.



    Knudson DV, Magnusson P and McHugh M. Current issues in flexibility fitness. Pres Council Physical fitness Sports, 2000.

    Fletcher IM, Jones B. The effect of different warm-up stretch protocols on 20 meter sprint performance in trained rugby union players. Journal Strength and Conditioning, 2004.

    Little T, Williams AG. Effects of differential stretching protocols during warm-ups on high-speed motor capacities in professional soccer players. Journal Strength and Conditioning, 2006.

  • Seve


    As a Golfer and now as a golf coach working with players of abilities it's always a challenge to get players to warm up before they play, even after the Tiger era. 

    When I played my warm up was like most golfers, warm up as you would play by hitting shots and preparing yourself for competition. However things are very different now,  with the influence and access to the top professionals warm ups via social media and the latest research. 

    Some of the findings in the following link show that for golfers resistance band stretching is a must pre round and is the best way for golfers to warm up the body. Check out the following research article http://bit.ly/29tyR6P the science behind a golf warm up by Ben Longdown and Jack Wells. 

    The results were impressive and show that warming up and the various ways,   properly or poorly will, have a dramatic effect on their golf performance. 

    Im sure that this transfers to other sports and can see players in the premiership warm up with resistance bands prior to kick off. 

  • DarrenG

    Much research was undertaken by FIFA which lead to the creation of the FIFA 11 plus warm up programme. 

    Research paper


    FIFA 11 plus explained


    Strangely, little info on the FIFA website, or at least difficult to find.

    Many of the exercises you will recognise from professional team warm up sessions before games.

    Attached pdf file is a research study on the impact of the FIFA 11 plus. The review concludes:

    '....The current evidence suggests that the FIFA 11+ exercise-based warm-up programs can both decrease the incidence of injuries in male and female amateur football players and also improve motor/neuromuscular performance...' 

  • Ralph
    On 27/01/17 5:46 PM, Dan Cottrell said:

    Happy to be persuaded either way...

    i have an article i wrote for dancers at Saddlerwell's as a guest lecturer that i can forward to you.

    stiffness is not what the other coaches above think it is and have been taught.

  • DarrenG

    FIFA best practice


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